Tim Tebow spoke on Father’s Day at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in front of a crowd of 26,000 people. It was a sit down interview with a pastor, similar to what he did on Easter Sunday near Austin. The talk turned to the examples that professional athletes set. Tebow said:
“What’s so frustrating is, you have in today’s society so many famous athletes,” he said. “If we would come together and be great role models, it would be amazing to see how the next generation turns out.”
Those comments stand in stark contrast to the famous Charles Barkley “Role Models” commercial from 1993.
So, athletes as role models or not? I’m firmly in Sir Charles’ camp here. That’s not to say that an athlete cannot play a role, but that’s like saying that an 80 degree day and one at 104 with high humidity are both “hot.” I think comments about how athletes can influence the next generation are largely delusional.
But let’s go into some more nuance than that. Tebow, after talking about athletes as role models, talked about the influence his father had by his actions, and not his words. Following up on that, the role models for kids are those to which they are personally exposed. That can be the parents, usually, but also grandparents, teachers, friends of the family, community members, coaches on local teams, and others they come into contact with daily.
I know sports occupies a lofty and public perch in our country for top athletes, and they are compensated. Believe me, as a father of a boy who is into every sport right now and very competitive, they occupy far less of kids’ personal lives than we want to let on. The one exception is on the field behavior. Celebrations, interactions that are actually witnessed (through television or from attending games) can have an impact. You see some modeling behavior of those at games, and they’ll want to wear the headbands or other equipment of some of their sports heroes. The batting stances in baseball are one example, though I’m kind of surprised that so many of these kids have been exposed to Julio Franco.
Away from that, though, no way, with just a few notable exceptions. The only way it does is if the parent or primary caretaker chooses to. You think it’s the 8-year-olds buying Tebow jerseys, for example? If Tebow specifically is a role model to some away from the field it will be because parents or other influencers chose to influence the kids to view it as such.
That David Diehl arrest for drunk driving last week, for one example, will have no impact. If a 9-year old now drives drunk or has an alcohol problem in fifteen years, it won’t be because three NFL players got a DUI in June of 2012. It will be because of the models directly around them and influences that touch them, and their own choices.
Another exception, of course, where an athlete is a role model is those that directly and personally touch children’s lives either positively or negatively in their communities, through personal involvement with kids’ programs. Those things have a huge influence on kids. My son just did a football camp (non-contact, just running drills) at the local high school, and those players were extremely popular to the younger kids, showing them how to do things. But does my son still have any sense of the morality of any of those players and what they do on a Saturday night? No. He does have that first game already circled on the calendar, though.
The final area is in setting an example or breaking down a barrier. Jackie Robinson. Doug Williams winning a Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean that the kids are acutely aware of every aspect of a pioneer’s life, but those accomplishments can change viewpoints. They are still not nearly as powerful as direct personal relationships.
Tebow said that it will be amazing to see how the next generation will turn out if athletes become great role models. I wrote about one Father’s Day with my dad yesterday, and I can say that everything I am is owed to his positive influence. I am lucky. I think what would truly be amazing, and who the real heroes are, are those that overcome their own past and become positive direct influencers for children. That’s not easy, but that’s what it will take. I would settle for athletes being positive influences for those directly around them, even if they overcome issues from their childhood. Leave the rest up to other parents and other caregivers.
[photo via US Presswire]